The Anatomy of a Storefront

Some may view a storefront as simply the entrance to a business, but at Versatile Wood Products, we see it differently. There are many questions to address, styles to choose from, and requirements to consider. A beautifully integrated storefront can be a complex project, but with the help of a strong design team, it needn’t be difficult. Here’s how we approach it.

Portland’s famous Pine Street Market is housed in the historic Carriage & Baggage Building, built in 1886. We designed entry systems that worked with the original arched masonry openings.

First, we determine the type of exposure this structure will be getting. Overhang and cardinal direction play a large part in the design strategy, including choosing your wood species. If the assembly will be taking a lot of heat from the sun, experiencing strong winds and rain, or facing heavy snow, that will help us to determine the best wood species to use. Douglas fir with standard grain is our most popular selection, and for many situations, it’s the perfect choice. When an even more robust species is called for, a tighter grain Douglas fir or sapele are our top choices. A southern-facing entrance, a less-than-generous overhang, or harsh weather exposure may call for special treatment. The experts at Versatile will guide you toward the best options for the unique needs of your storefront. 

Our product design manager Rex Vaccaro consults with the installation team at Cornelius Woodlark. Versatile’s experts collaborate with you to ensure great results.

One challenge that can arise when modernizing historic structures is creating ADA-compliant entrances. In buildings such as the Timberline Lodge and the Hollywood Theatre, innovative techniques (like burying wires or building concealers for electric closers) ensured that the original aesthetics were preserved while also integrating automatic door mechanisms needed for ADA accessibility. 

Timberline Lodge is a famous building that really takes a beating. Our ADA entryway is robust enough to withstand the elements, while ensuring ADA compliance. Accessibility matters!

Another important consideration is providing window and doorway systems that keep our clients and their customers comfortable year-round as the weather and temperatures shift. Precision, top-quality weather stripping and thresholds appropriate for your design will prevent air from traveling around windows or doors and ensure a well-regulated indoor environment.

After facing the elements for decades, historic buildings need to be repaired, restored, and renovated. There are many guidelines concerning the preservation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of historic buildings. With over 30 years of experience with historic renovation projects, including multiple structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Versatile is fluent in the unique requirements of historic restoration. For Versatile Wood Products, staying true to a building’s original aesthetics and honoring its past are a point of pride and what gives our work purpose.


Why Historic Preservation Matters

Versatile Wood Products was proud to play a role in the restoration of the Heceta Head Lighthouse, including custom doors.

1. Historic buildings are important to the cultural fabric of any city

Take a stroll down the streets of any major city, and you’re bound to come across historic buildings. Some become tourist attractions in their own right, such as the Painted Ladies, the iconic Victorian and Edwardian homes that line the street across from Alamo Square in San Francisco, or the 19th-century tenement buildings on New York’s Lower East Side, which are now part of a museum that millions visit each year. Historic buildings are important to the cultural fabric of any city, and it’s not simply because they are aesthetically appealing, even though this is an important reason these buildings are worth preserving.

Architectural preservation holds value for cultural, historical, economic, and even environmental reasons

Architectural preservation holds value for cultural, historical, economic, and even environmental reasons, providing clear benefits to the city and the people who live and work there.

Amsterdam, Egypt, Athens, London, Rome, Paris, Tokyo – these are some of the most visited cities in the world, and it’s easy to see why.  These cities have deep historical roots that guide their cultural identity. The wonderment of the historic buildings and structures is noticeable and attracts millions of visitors per year.  The same feeling of awe that these cities have can be found in many major American cities as well.

The First Congregational Church is a downtown Portland landmark. Building of this Venetian Gothic church started in 1889 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The tracery in the bell tower was badly decayed in places and badly needed help. Versatile painstakingly salvaged what could be saved and seamlessly repaired what needed replacing.

Portland and much of the West coast has a uniquely storied history… if we insist on tearing down historic buildings because they don’t provide enough income we will lose our sense of cultural identity.  

Portland and much of the West coast has a uniquely storied history that can still be reflected today, but if we insist on tearing down historic buildings because they don’t provide enough income we will lose our sense of cultural identity.  The Northwest’s urban architectural beginnings date from the mid-1800s, and precious few of the structures built during that time are still left standing today. The oldest surviving structure in Portland, the Hallock-McMillan building, was built in 1857 and is now in the process of historic restoration.  Some notable Portland homes that were built in the 1800s have been successfully preserved, such as the Pittock Mansion, or the in-progress Morris Marks house.  Yet for each place saved, there have been even more places demolished, and there is much work to do.

2. Old buildings hold more economic value

In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argues that businesses such as offices, coffee shops, restaurants, and others are attracted to older buildings, young people want to live in areas with old buildings, and that maintaining old buildings creates more jobs than building new ones. It is generally more expensive to revitalize an old brick façade, and it takes many more specialized construction positions to bring an old building back to life than to put up a cheaper new building. The need for specialized personnel, the influx of new businesses, and the increase of homes purchased in areas with older buildings means that for the owner it might not directly make them as much money to own and operate an old building, but it helps the local economy as a whole.

The PPAA building, built in 1908 as an unauthorized copy of the Voysey building in London, was occupied by the Portland Police Athletic Association for about 50 years. The space is now occupied by the Loyal Legion, with historically accurate windows and entry systems. This picture features a custom folding window assembly that allows for a full opening to create a maximum sense of space, while still retaining historic character.

3. It’s better for the environment to maintain and update an old building

It is considerably more environmentally friendly to maintain and update an old building than to tear it down and build a new one.  Adding insulation, wooden insulated windows, wooden doors, and a newer roof means that modern energy performance can be achieved while retaining the historic fabric of the building.  Wooden windows and doors insulate better and last much longer than the metal and vinyl windows commonly found in new buildings. Not only is repurposing old buildings intrinsically motivating, but it makes good environmental sense.

There are very clear environmental, economic, cultural, and historical reasons why we should preserve old buildings instead of demolishing them, and yet it feels like more historic buildings are under threat than ever before.  The boom of people to Portland is giving landowners reason to sell their property to make way for new apartment complexes. We need everyone’s help in spreading awareness if we’re going to help preserve our historic urban landscape. Supporting companies and organizations that advocate for historic preservation is a significant way to fight the demolition problem that we’re facing.  We at Versatile are proud to be a resource for historic preservation and supporters of Restore Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center.

Do you have a project that could use the help of a team of experienced and dedicated experts? Commercial or residential, large or small, Versatile Wood Products is here to help. Contact us at info@versatilewp.com or call 503-238-6403 to make an appointment to discuss your project, or just learn more.

5 Tips for Choosing Cabinetry

Versatile is known for coming up with inventive solutions for design challenges. Our experienced team specializes in balancing period-appropriate architectural design specifications with modern performance standards. We combine historic techniques with modern technologies. Versatile’s product design experts are uniquely qualified to bring your ideas to life. 

We know how complex custom cabinetry design can be, and we are eager to help guide clients through decisions and choices. Utilizing Versatile’s expertise when planning your cabinets will ensure you have maximized utility while designing cabinets that best fit the unique character of the home. Here are five important tips to consider when making your selections:

1. Pay attention to the details

Every house was built with specific style references. Mid-Century Modern, Victorian, Craftsman, Tudor, Ranch, American Colonial, Storybook, Queen Anne—sometimes in combination. Each style has rules and conventions that should not be ignored. Look at the details from every aspect of the house and consider how they can relate to your cabinetry. Is there crown or base molding, what does the front of the house look like, how open are the rooms, what does the front porch look like, what do the windows and doors look like, what does the bathroom cabinetry look like? These questions are essential for choosing the best cabinetry style and finish for your space.

2. Proportions are more important than style

As important as the details are, considering the proportions is even more crucial. You may make eclectic design choices for the style of cabinetry, but whatever you do, you must observe the proportions of the house. Each house adheres to a strict set of proportions. These proportions instantly tell a trained eye when the house was built. Deviating from these proportions will be immediately apparent to a design professional—and even untrained eyes will sense that something is “off”. Don’t put 36” upper cabinets into a low ceiling kitchen just because that’s the standard size they come in, or don’t butt new cabinets right up against the wall to fit as much storage there as you can. There are specific proportions for how close to the wall they should be, how far away from the ceiling they should be, etc. You can get away with different style cabinetry and still have it look good if it is proportioned correctly.

3. Think of cabinetry as furniture 

In Germany it’s common practice to take your kitchen cabinetry as well as countertops with you when you move into a new home because they’re viewed like appliances. People buy very high end, long lasting cabinetry and counters and keep them forever, passing them down for generations. At the turn of the 20thcentury it was very uncommon to see built-in cabinets or islands in a kitchen. Freestanding Hoosier style cabinets and islands with ornate millwork details and legs were much more common. Back then cabinets were literally furniture, but it’s possible to still have that same feel today with built-ins. If you think of your cabinetry the same way you think about a bed frame or a couch or table – really making sure it fits the space and compliments other design aspects of the house – then you’re likely to end up with much better cabinets, both in quality and in style.

4. Embrace the cozy feeling—or consider the space transition 

The enduring trend of modern-chic open kitchens is much like the over-used open office plan. It started with a famous designer, but has been poorly copied for far too long. The problem is that many people who cook actually tend to crave closed spaces, even if they aren’t fully aware of it. Nobody needs to see you cut yourself, see how much butter is going into the meal you’re making, or see you use canned ingredients. Think about a restaurant: even a restaurant with an open kitchen has a hidden prep kitchen, and most restaurants don’t have the kitchen visible at all. There is a line between showmanship and comfort that needs to be observed, and intelligent cabinetry design will address this. Don’t be afraid to embrace tall cabinets that fill your kitchen. Sacrificing storage and privacy to have an open kitchen or open counters for showmanship isn’t worth it. Don’t be afraid to pack in the cabinets (as long as you’re observing the correct proportions, of course). If you really desire the open space, consider opting for open front cabinetry with an interesting wallpaper or paint color to make the room feel as if it’s transitioning seamlessly into the walls, while also giving you a nice room accent and plenty of storage.

5. “In-between” cabinetry is a waste of money

Cabinetry is available in different grades. You have inexpensive modular stock cabinetry, semi-custom cabinetry, and high end full custom cabinetry. Ikea and other economical pressboard cabinets can be a great choice for certain projects. You get a decent amount of options for configuration and finish while keeping it very budget-friendly. The step up from that is semi-custom cabinetry. Semi-custom cabinets are essentially stock cabinets that you can change certain dimensions and details of. The issues with semi-custom cabinets are with the quality and the time. Semi-custom cabinets are made with economy-grade materials, but require time and budget for a designer to make sure the details are perfect—a big expense when the end result is not appreciably different from stock cabinets. Designers take on all the responsibility that comes with a full kitchen remodel, but they end up having to do the same amount of work as if they were full custom cabinets, so in the end the only difference is the quality and materials used. Perhaps stock cabinets are suitable for your project, perhaps full-custom is the way to go—but don’t mess around with the in-between.

Versatile Wood Products is here to bring your custom cabinetry designs to life. Whether you bring us ideas or a full set of plans, trust our skill and experience to make sure your cabinets are perfect. We invite you to come to our Cabinets and Cabernet event in our showroom on April 10th from 4:00 – 7:00 PM! Enjoy some wine and snacks, shop tours, and a fun and informative presentation from our Product Design manager, Rex Vaccaro.

Special thanks to Anne De Wolf for sharing her insights with us for this article.

Cornelius Woodlark Project

After a 28 year hiatus, the historic Cornelius Hotel has finally opened once again with new owners, the newly conjoined Woodlark Building, and a new name – the Woodlark House of Welcome.
Merely five years ago the Cornelius Hotel was scheduled for demolition. The hotel, located in the heart of downtown Portland, was built in 1908, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Due in part to the economic crash of 2008 it was set to be destroyed but was saved when the building was sold for $2.1 million. That started the almost $70 million journey to restore the hotel to its former glory – with a uniquely interesting problem.

Next door to the Cornelius Hotel, opened in 1912, sits the Woodlark Building. Another historic structure, the Woodlark was set to be destroyed along with the Cornelius Hotel in 2013. The Woodlark Building was purchased for $6.9 million along with the Cornelius Hotel, and what followed is the painstaking difficulty of combining the two building into a brand-new hotel. The two conjoined buildings look completely different, and the floors don’t line up. These challenges along with a laundry list of others are responsible for the massive restoration bill.

Today, the recently opened Woodlark House of Welcome, not only has overcome these problems, but highlights them with tastefully and thoughtfully designed interiors. There are separate key cards and separate design themes matching the building’s separate exterior facades to help guests navigate the two buildings.

We had the pleasure to get to work on this project with the help of LCG Pence and local firm R&A Architecture + Design. We built a total of six entryway systems, 29 windows at the mezzanine level, and 25 windows at the basement clerestory level. The project took an estimated 2600 hours of total shop time and is one of the largest projects we’ve ever worked on.

Although this project started years ago, the re-opening of the historic hotel was one of our highlights from this past year, and we are well into our next historic hotel restoration – stay tuned!




Restoration Celebration: November 2nd

Restore Oregon is the distinguished nonprofit dedicated to preserving the most historic and meaningful structures from around the state. We were delighted to once again be the presenting sponsor for the annual fundraising gala, the Restoration Celebration.  The dinner and award ceremony are meant to honor and celebrate the work done over the past year, and to highlight the uphill battles that remain.

The event was held at the beautiful Sentinel Hotel in downtown Portland and was headlined by the presentation of the 2018 DeMuro Awards, which are named after the historic real estate developer Art DeMuro. These prestigious awards are given to the outstanding rehabilitation projects from the previous year. Art DeMuro was the man responsible for many groundbreaking restorations that have helped shape Portland into the city it is today.  He served ten years on the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and donated $2.8 million to the University of Oregon’s Historic Preservation Program.  Sadly, he passed away in 2012 at the age of 57 after a battle with cancer. We were incredibly proud to be part of the Towne Storage project, which brought a DeMuro to LRS Architects and Bremik Construction. Versatile’s scope was done in 13 total phases and included 208 double hung windows, 2.4 tons of sash weights, 6000 square feet of insulated glass, and 1.2 miles of simulated divided lite bar for the windows alone!

Peggy Moretti, the Executive Director of Restore Oregon, gave an inspiring and moving presentation focusing on Oregon’s most endangered places, and spoke about the long road ahead to continue to preserve our architectural heritage.  A total of 47 places have already been saved since Restore Oregon’s inception of the Most Endangered Places Project in 2011, and everyone is excited about the work still to be done. The event culminated in raffle drawings and a thrilling paddle-raise auction. Over $120,000 were raised by the event!

Versatile is excited to partner in upcoming historic preservation efforts, and we look forward to saving more of Oregon’s historic places.

Whiskey and Windows: October 25th

The Versatile showroom’s Ingenuity display, featuring our new catalog. Do you have yours?

Thursday, October 25th will go down as Versatile’s best in-house event to date due in part to the buzz of important attendants and the interesting upcoming collaborative projects they bring to the table.  There was also a captivating presentation, as well as live music, and a great selection of domestic whiskey.

Whiskey and Windows, a longstanding and popular event, continues to be a great networking and learning event for everyone involved. It was a threefold opportunity to unveil the new Ingenuity catalog, introduce our Business Development Manager — Gary Paquin — to a wider audience of clients, and to connect with designers, architects, and building owners alike.  Over seventy guests came to enjoy the various whiskey cocktails, as well as tour the impressive 30,000 square foot shop, and see a window presentation outlining our mission statement, offering uniquely Versatile solutions.

Guests looking on as Richard starts the evening festivities

The evening kicked off with some ping pong, live music, a fully stocked whiskey bar, and a few words from Versatile’s owner, Richard De Wolf.  He talked about the newly implemented Ingenuity window line, and some of the reasons behind creating his own semi-custom windows, saying: “The challenge for us in creating a better window was to integrate historic aesthetics while implementing new standards and techniques that improve performance and durability.”  He then announced the release of the first ever Ingenuity product catalog, which is available for pickup now in the Versatile showroom, or on our website.

Erica Witbeck, the operations manager, then gave shop tours highlighting the shop’s impressive size, the diversity of products we’re able to produce, and Versatile’s state of the art wood-powered biomass boiler heating system, answering questions along the way.  Versatile’s shop tour also contains a stop at its very impressive custom knife collection consisting of around 500 knives, making it easily one of the largest collections for a shop of this size in the Northwest.  No wonder so many historic buildings turn to Versatile for their window, door, and cabinetry needs!

Erica Witbeck leading a shop tour through our Cabinetry shop—don’t forget about Versatile for your custom cabinetry needs!

The Versatile presentation conveyed an impressive list of rewarding large scale restoration projects including the DeMuro Award-winning Towne Storage building, several Timberline Lodge projects, The Old Church, The Zipper, and many more.  Gary showed a glimpse of how much experience Versatile Wood Products has in its industry, and just how knowledgeable and passionate the staff are about being trade experts and colleagues in the window, door, and cabinetry field.

Gary Paquin is ready to talk about your next project! Drop him a line at gary@versatilewp.com.

As the evening wound to a close there was still plenty of mingling and drinking going on. More ping pong broke out (perhaps a bit more knockabout than before), and it became clear that the tight-knit community feel of the growing Portland construction industry was something to cherish.  Old friends and new connections coming together to share company and conversation over a glass of whiskey is an exceptional way to spend an evening.  Be sure to join us for the next Versatile event!

Our newest team member — Gary Paquin

We’re excited to announce our newest team member, Gary Paquin. Previously working for companies such as McCoy Millwork, Rejuvenation and Jack of the Woods Construction, Gary has been working in the home industry for over 15 years.

“I started as a carpenter and have always had a strong interest in historic restoration, finish carpentry and architectural history.  I’ve spent the last 7+ years in the waste management industry. I’m ready to get back to my happy place at Versatile,” says Gary.

Another cool fact about Gary is that he and Richard, Versatile’s owner, are longtime friends.

“I met Richard shortly after he and Anne moved to Portland.  We worked together at Serendipity Center: a school for troubled kids.  We became fast friends and have been close ever since.  I was the best man at their wedding,” says Gary.

Gary also runs a podcast with his friend Jeff Peart.

“It’s just two guys talking and trying to be funny.  Been doing it for over two years.  It’s a lot of fun,” says Gary.

“As the Business Development Manager, Gary will be helping our clients learn more about our product. At Versatile Wood Products, we know our company is only as good as our people. Which is why we are so excited to have Gary join our team!” says Richard De Wolf, Versatile company owner and CEO.

We’re excited to learn more about Gary Paquin as he gets into his new role with Versatile.  Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on Gary and his work with Versatile coming soon!

Sovereign Hotel Restoration Award

Beautiful Sovereign Hotel Restoration

Sovereign Hotel Renovation Team Celebrates Project of the Year Award
Members of the project team behind the Sovereign Hotel renovation, submitted by R&H Construction and Emerick Architects, celebrate the Project of the Year award. (Sam Tenney/DJC)

Versatile Wood Products is proud to stand alongside Emerick Architects and R&H Construction to win DJC Top Project of the Year Award for the restoration of the Sovereign Hotel! The DJC awards are:

“… the premier awards program for the region’s built environment. Honoring the best building and construction projects in Oregon
and SW Washington, DJC TopProjects is the must-attend annual event to meet the people and firms who are doing outstanding work in the regional built environment.”

DJCOregon

Watch a beautiful video on the restoration of this 95-year-old luxury apartment hotel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcgLp3Ig85M

A Brief History of the Sovereign Hotel

Since its construction the Sovereign Hotel has been an apartment building, radio station, and home to the Oregon Historical Society.

Sovereign Hotel

The landmark Sovereign Hotel was built in 1923. The nine-story building is a Georgian-style designed by Carl L. Linde. Its first occupants were KFWV radio in 1926 until 1927. In 1938, Harry Mittleman bought the Hotel; until 1972 it was known as the Sovereign Apartments. The Sovereign Hotel was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places on December 2, 1981. In 1982 the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) purchased the building to expand the Oregon History Center.

Sovereign Hotel

One of the most beloved aspects of the Hotel is the murals. The Hotel is an L-shaped building with six sides. On four of the sides, murals commissioned by OHS were painted in 1989 by Richard Hass. Two of these murals rise eight stories.  One side depicts the Lewis and Clark expedition, while the mural on the south side shows the pioneer period in Oregon’s history. In 2014 OHS sold the Hotel under the agreement that the new owner would preserve the murals.

Versatile and the Sovereign Hotel

For Versatile, the story started in August of 2015. Our team started exploring scope options with the team from Emerick to see what the possibilities were. Versatile’s historic building experts participated in detailed site assessments to help decide how to best approach the building restoration. We were able to propose an array of strategies to choose from.

Flash Forward to Spring of 2016:

While the window scope was being sorted out and set in motion, we next concentrated on the custom storefront and entryway system. The storefront was particularly challenging. This was because the oversized tempered glass required was larger than any domestic tempering oven that we could locate. The glass ultimately had to be sourced from Canada.

The storefront was constructed out of Sapele. This beautiful material is often selected for stain-grade products because of its rich, dark appearance. Versatile will also utilize it for paint-grade applications when high exposure calls for greater resistance to weathering and decay. The entry system, consisting of quartersawn white oak door, side panels, and arched transom, were designed to coordinate with original materials and details.

We Rose to a New Technical Challenge with the Arched Transom Unit:

For maximum accuracy, we looked to our state-of-the-art CNC machine to produce the radiused pieces. The geometric precision on some of the slender pieces was so accurate and consistent, we have since adapted our production to incorporate this strategy. This is a perfect example of how Versatile strives to bring new technologies together with traditional building methods to create the best products possible.

Additional interior and exterior oak doors were added in succession, as well as some cabinet drawers and faces (yes, we do that too!). All in all, we had 13 phases to this project, finally concluding in August of 2017.

Check Out our Photos

Sovereign Hotel
Sovereign plans and arched pieces

Sovereign Hotel
Sovereign arched transom in progress

Sovereign Hotel
Sovereign Arched Transom Gluing

Sovereign Hotel
Chuck from R&H Construction stands in front of the Sovereign door and arched transom

Design Week Open House: Thursday, April 19th

With the sun shining, beer on tap and music in the air, Versatile opened their doors to guests for Design Week on April 19th and introduced the new semi-custom windows line, Ingenuity; demonstrated the efficient biomass boiler system and gave tours of their space to curious builders, contractors, architects, designers and anyone who wanted to learn more!

Design Week
Charley Adams plays acoustic melodies to welcome guests

Design Week
Richard explains the mission behind developing his first product line, Ingenuity Windows. “We were tired of dealing with the big box suppliers offering poor service and a low quality product, so we decided to make our own,” says Richard

Design Week
Amount of ash the Biomass Boiler System produces each day.

Design Week
Loyal, who helps keep the boiler stoked, lifts the door to demonstrate how the Biomass Boiler system is fueled.

Design Week
The amount of recycled paper it takes to start the boiler.

Design Week
Versatile Operations Coordinator, Brian Hoffman, was instrumental in making this system work.

Design Week
The wood byproduct is used for the boiler system.

Design Week
Andrew from Wisewood Energy explains how the boiler system helps the environment.

Design Week
Kelson from the Energy Trust of Oregon explains ways other small businesses can save money and help the environment with energy saving tools.

Design Week
Onlookers enjoy the presentations, music and networking.

We hope to see you at our next event!